Sunday, November 27, 2011

Someone had to wear the Black Hat
on the Sing-Off

The votes are in as of 9 a.m. this morning, the tally is being counted, and we will soon know who the Sing-Off a cappella winner is for Season III. That group, either Pentatonix, Urban Method, or the Dartmouth Aires, will walk home with a $200,000 cash prize and a coveted Sony Music Recording Contract, no small potatoes. The finale, hosted by Nick Lachey, will air on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (WESH 2 here in Orlando, Channel 4 or 1020 on Brighthouse Cable) and will feature a guest star appearance performance by Smokey Robinson.

Last Monday’s show was a bit of a shock to many of us who not only assumed that Afro-Blue, a diverse 9-member jazzy-blues a cappella singing class from Howard University in Washington D.C., would be a finalist, we wondered if perhaps they might inevitably walk home with the grand prize. However, in an upset, the judges instead chose the Dartmouth Aires, an all male 15-member a cappella group from Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, for the third and final spot.

I myself was amiss – I like the Dartmouth Aires and feel that they are by far the most entertaining group on stage. However, the judges repeatedly pointed out that they were picking a group for the purpose of making a hit record, not putting on a show. And to me, Afro-Blue was a shoo in.

The decision to axe Afro-Blue was placed upon Ben Folds shoulders, although technically, he was one of two judges, the other being Sara Bareilles, who chose the Dartmouth Aires a cappella group over Afro-Blue. Only one judge, Shawn Stockman, felt that Afro-Blue would be a better choice.

Soon after the show aired, the insults began to fly, and Folds’ twitter and facebook walls were bombarded with criticisms, some quite nasty, some attempting to be understanding, but nearly all in disagreement.

It was good that we, the TV viewing public, voiced our unhappiness.

However, as disappointed as I am with Fold’s decision, I would never want to devalue all of the wonderful good he has done for the Sing-Off and the a cappella music genre over the past three years, even longer if you count his work with college a cappella groups featured on his CD, University A Cappella. Folds has been a real asset to the show. In his reviews of each contestant’s performances, he has explained complex musical terms in easy to understand language, pointed out the tiniest of group achievements, and politely suggested improvements for future performances, all of which have earned him the honorary title of Professor Folds. Without Dr. Folds on board, I, quite frankly, simply would not watch the show.

The judges were intentionally chosen by the Sing-Off producers for their diverse backgrounds in the music industry in an effort to offer a balanced appraisal of how successful a group will fair in today’s music market. Shawn Stockman represents the rhythm and blues, and hip hop side of the coin; Ben Folds represents the alternative, anti-folk, pop-rock music industry; and Sara Bareilles, a former a cappella group member herself, represents the pop and country music markets. Each judge brings a different and equally valuable opinion to the table of what will sell and what will not.

Between the three judges, a consensus would be made, since there could be no ties with an odd number of votes.

With so many talented groups on the docket, it’s no wonder there were fewer unanimous decisions this year. For the first time ever, a sing-off was held, where the bottom two groups had to perform another song to make it easier to compare the two competitors side by side. In fact, the final decision between Afro-Blue and the Dartmouth Aires was also made after a sing-off.

The judges made their choices with a great deal of knowledge, careful thought, consideration, and heart, based on their own personal experiences. Their choices were not an issue of favoritism, “selling-out,” or prejudice. They each chose wisely based on what they know personally about making it in the music business.

It’s a shame that someone had to be the “bad guy,” and pick one group over another to proceed to the finals. However, that burden fell on the shoulders of Ben Folds in this final round. I have to admire him for sticking to his guns, not backing down, and believing in his own opinion.

That being said, I would not be at all surprised if all of this negative publicity boosts Afro-Blue cosmically into outer space with their first record deal, which will no doubt be on the horizon, if not announced on tomorrow’s finale show. Everyone loves an underdog, especially one who is believed to have been given an unfair shake. I am and will always be one of their biggest fans and look forward to purchasing their first CD, after it is released.

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